By Ariel Steinsaltz
Within hours of a tornado warning sent out to the central Alabama area on March 3, tornadoes had reached Alabama, Georgia and Florida, leaving devastation and 23 people dead in their wake, according to The New York Times.
All 23 deaths reported were from Lee County, Alabama, which was hit by two tornadoes. One of the tornadoes was at least half a mile wide. The New York Times reported that people were sent to hospitals, homes were destroyed and trees were uprooted.
“‘There was a mobile home frame in the middle of the road at one time,’” said Chief Byron Prather of the Opelika Fire Department, according to The New York Times.
Rescue teams, totaling more than 150 people, barely had more than flashlights and vehicle lights as they searched into the night for victims and survivors, The New York Times reported.
Some people had very little time to prepare for the tornadoes. The first warning in Lee County came at 2:58 p.m., with the first damage report coming in only five minutes later. The warning for the second tornado came at 3:38 p.m., followed by reports of damage after 13 minutes. After the tornadoes swept through, as many as 20 people were unaccounted for in addition to the 23 dead. Some people were receiving treatment for injuries that were said to be “‘very serious,’” according to ABC Action News.
According to the Ledger-Enquirer, the oldest of the 23 victims of the tornado was 89 years old, while the youngest was 6. Four of the victims were children, who were 6, 8, 9 and 10 years old.
The half-mile wide tornado in Lee County reached wind speeds between 136 and 165 mph.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey extended a state of emergency that was issued last month “due to tornadoes and severe weather,” according to ABC Action News.
Alabama was not the only state affected. An airport on the border between the two states was destroyed. In Talbotton, Georgia, six people were injured and at least 15 structures, including an apartment building, were destroyed. A pastor at a church in Talbotton said that because media reports were focused mainly on Alabama’s impending tornado, people in town were not expecting tornadoes to hit their areas as well, which partly prevented them from being able to prepare before damage could strike, according to ABC Action News.
According to USA Today, on Friday, March 8, President Donald Trump flew to Alabama to tour the area. The president described the damage as “‘hard to believe.’”
Many Alabama residents expressed their gratitude for the president’s tour, including a 7-year-old boy, who wrote a message thanking Trump for his visit.
USA Today reported that the president tweeted on March 4 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would provide “‘A-plus treatment’” to those affected.
The New York Times reported that the death toll is more than double the 10 people killed by tornadoes in the U.S. in 2018.